James and Dudek making the most of a second life

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The Independent Online

Think Poland, as England must after last night's game here, and you think World Cups and goalkeepers. There is Jan Tomaszewski, Cloughy's clown, eliminating Sir Alf Ramsey's team at Wembley eight months before the 1974 finals; and Peter Shilton claiming the merest touch on to his bar in the last minute to prevent the same fate in Katowice 16 years later.

Think Poland, as England must after last night's game here, and you think World Cups and goalkeepers. There is Jan Tomaszewski, Cloughy's clown, eliminating Sir Alf Ramsey's team at Wembley eight months before the 1974 finals; and Peter Shilton claiming the merest touch on to his bar in the last minute to prevent the same fate in Katowice 16 years later.

Back at the same unappealing venue on Wednesday, the men under the floodlights' harshest glare will be David James and Jerzy Dudek. DJ against JD. There are common threads linking them, too, namely an unhappy knack of dropping a clanger, or a football, while in the employment of Liverpool. James dropped a few too many for the liking of Gérard Houllier, who brought in Brad Friedel and, later, Sander Westerveld, who was himself shown the door after the Frenchman signed Dudek and Chris Kirkland on the same day.

Moved on to Aston Villa, James was forced to re-evaluate his career, in tandem with a sports psychologist, who has subsequently followed him to West Ham and Manchester City. Successive relegation struggles playing behind a dodgy defence seem to have been the making of him. A run of 18 starts in the past 19 England games (he was rested for the other one, against Iceland) cannot be matched by anyone in the squad, and after spending two major tournaments on the bench, James finally got to play in one this summer.

"Overall I was happy with my performance in Portugal," he said. "Obviously there were things that could have been better, but it was a learning experience. It's a strange situation to be playing your first tournament at 33, when you'd normally have two or three under your belt. I became frustrated, like the rest of the nation, that we could have won, could have done better. But I enjoyed it. I've also had a much more relaxed and enjoyable feeling about myself coming into this season." Liverpool was "a low point", he admits. "There was a time when I was letting a lot of bad goals in and I just didn't understand why things weren't going the way they should be. On reflection I can look back now and say exactly why - though I'm not going to - and there was a lot of improvement needed.

"Now I prepare right, my focus is right and I do the right training to minimalise the chances of making mistakes. But without the Liverpool experiences I could have messed up somewhere else and never had another chance anywhere."

For Dudek, the Anfield experience has, on the whole, proved more positive, one or two howlers apart. Unlike James, he even has the oppor-tunity of a new start without moving clubs, Rafael Benitez having succeeded Houllier.

"It's very different, but I think everyone is concentrated and focused to make a good impression," Dudek said. "When the team is doing well the atmosphere is immediately different, and that helps to have the right spirit in the team. I think we missed that last year."

How far you progress must also be seen in relation to where you started from. "My father was a coal miner in Poland, and life was not easy for him. To play for a big club like Liverpool is the best job in the world. It was something special for me, I had the big scarf above my bed, but never had it in my mind that I would ever play for Liverpool."

Coincidentally, a recent Dudek boob allowed Nicolas Anelka to score for City, while James stood at the other end, watching with sympathy. Possibly on the basis of "there but for the grace of God", James claims not to like seeing others in the goalkeepers' union suffering misfortune. In England's hour of need on Wednesday, he might just be prepared to make an exception.

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